What is Working Memory in the Human Brain?

The blackboard of the mind, the brain’s post-it note – these are just some of the monikers that have been awarded to your mental working memory. Defined as the active part of your mind, your working memory involves the simultaneous processing and storing of information.

What is Your Working Memory?

Working memory is the mind’s ability to keep information for a short span of time, as you utilize such facts for the tasks and activities you need to do. It makes use of two lobes: the frontal lobe, which is responsible for planning, reasoning, emotions, problem-solving, movement and speech; and the parietal lobe, which governs the perception of stimuli such as pain, pressure, touch and temperature.

Since working memory is naturally brief, it makes use of attention and memory, but only for a short span of time. It is considered the foundation of the mind’s executive function, a group of mental processes that allows an individual to solve problems, plan ahead, pay attention and organize activities.

Kinds of Working Memory

There are two types of working memory used by all individuals from around the globe. They are:

  • Auditory/Verbal Working Memory

Makes use of the mind’s phonological or sound system. A good example is repeatedly dictating a phone number while dialling it. While it cannot be retained while doing a certain a task, it is touted by many as a common learning disadvantage in most activities. Tasks that make use of verbal working memory include comprehension and language activities.

  • Visual-Spatial Working Memory

Defined as the brain’s ability to use an ‘imaginary sketchpad,’ it enables a person to visualize something – and keep it in his mind’s eye. Individuals can use this type of working memory to remember images, sequences and patterns. It is also useful for computing mathematical equations in the mind.

When Do We Use Working Memory?

Working memory is used in most aspects of life. When you do the following activities, you utilize your mind’s working memory:

  • Remembering a phone number, plate number or web address while looking for a pen and paper to jot down the information.
  • Following directions to a place you need to go without a map – just keeping in mind what the kind police officer has told you.
  • Calculating in your mind the cost of all the items inside your grocery basket.
  • Recalling the name of the person beside you so you can introduce him to another friend.
  • Measuring an ingredient when you are at a different page of the recipe book.

The Limitations of Working Memory

[wp_ad_camp_4] While working memory is an essential part of cognition, there are limitations that come with this sort of thinking. Here are some factors that can lead to the loss of information from your working memory:

  • Distractions, such as a ringing phone, somebody talking to you, or suddenly remembering an unrelated thought.
  • Keeping in mind too much information. As with any mind, working memory comes with limitations – especially when it comes to retaining numbers.
  • Performing a difficult task. Activities such as multiplying and mental arithmetic can lead to information loss and an ineffective working memory.

Takeaways of What Working Memory is


So we’ve talked about what it is and what it is not.   But to sum it up, just remember these four aspects of working memory:

  • Working memory operates in a very short timespan—in a matter of seconds.
  • Working memory is used to temporarily store information for immediate usage, whereas long-term memory is used for permanent storage
  • Working memory is also use to manipulate information it stores
  • Working memory focuses your attention on one thing
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